How to De-Escalate Once Your Partner Has Started Asking “What’s Wrong?”

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I'm a certified coach and work with grumpy girlfriends who want to dump the grump and enjoy their good relationships.

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Has your partner ever gotten frustrated with you for being grumpy, jealous, or insecure for no reason? A lot of my clients talk about how their partners immediately know something’s wrong. What usually happens is that they ask what’s wrong. Over and over again. Because they have learned that there’s always something. This becomes the start of a negative downward spiral.

If you can relate to this, I’m sure you can also relate to what happens next. Your partner will ask over and over. You will deny anything is wrong because you know it’s all in your head. You don’t want to bring it up to them every time your brain makes something up. But you can sense your partner getting more frustrated… which leads to you feeling worse and worse for starting this whole carousel, to begin with.

Eventually, you feel so shitty about yourself on top of the jealousy, grumpiness, or insecurity you started off with, that you can’t keep it in anymore.

Once you break down, your partner gets even more frustrated with you for

  1. Not telling them right away.
  2. Making things up that make you feel like shit.

You’re already in fight or flight mode at this point and just want to get out of danger, so your partner’s frustration becomes another threat to you. It fuels your initial beliefs about them not loving you, not wanting to be with you, and just thinking you’re a terrible girlfriend.

Yup. We’ve all been there.

So what can you do to de-escalate the situation?

You need to break the cycle where you and your partner feed off each other and start a big fight over literally nothing. And since you can’t control your partner and their reaction, you’re going to have to do that by controlling your own.

The Bus Stop Method

We all have a pretty bad habit of making things really difficult for ourselves. In this case, that means expecting yourself to be perfect from the start. To just not be jealous, anxious, or grumpy for no reason so your partner never has to ask “what’s wrong?” That’s the goal, so therefore that’s what you need to do.

But the problem is that you won’t be able to do that the first couple of times. If you only have a plan A, then you’re screwed when it doesn’t work out.

This is where my Bus Stop Method comes in. Life is not an airplane that you get on and then have to stay on until the final destination. Life is a bus, and you always have the option of getting off at the next stop. Meaning: You have a plan A, B, C, D, and so on.

It’s never too late to do the next best thing.

Best-case scenario: Don’t get on the bus

Yes. This is the absolute best-case scenario that we are going to work towards.

The goal is to sit by the bus stop and notice when the bus rolls in. This is when you’re able to notice a trigger happening and you can watch your mind wanting to “go there”. But you choose not to because you know that the bus is heading in a direction you don’t want to go.

How? By being the watcher of your own mind and knowing yourself and your triggers like the back of your hand. You also need to be able to hold space for that initial shockwave of jealousy, anger, fear, or anxiety in your body without acting on it.

Stop 1: Don’t take it out on your partner

Getting off at the first bus stop means that you feel jealousy, anxiety, or grumpiness in your body. You notice that your thoughts are spinning in that direction and you feel the urge to react. That might be snapping at your partner, making a rude comment, or perhaps withdrawing from them and leaving the room.

If you’re able to notice that you got on the bus without paying attention, you can get off right here. Challenge yourself to not react to these emotions. Keep acting normal, kind even, towards your partner. Do the opposite of what these emotions are telling you to do.

Learn how to do this by using my free guide.

If you get off at this stop, your partner won’t have to ask “what’s wrong?”

Stop 2: Don’t get defensive

Okay, so your partner has now asked “what’s wrong?” and this is when you wake up. You realize that you’ve done it again and now your partner is looking at you, prepared for impact.

I’m not going to tell you what to say in this situation. That will differ from girlfriend to girlfriend and relationship to relationship. But what I will offer you is from where I want you to answer the question.

I want you to ask yourself:

  • If I truly believed, 100%, that it’s not dangerous, shameful, or crazy that my brain makes things up, what would I say?
  • If I believed that how I’m feeling has nothing to do with my partner and they have not done anything wrong, what would I say?
  • If I had my own back and knew that I can process this discomfort and then go back to normal, what would I say?

For some girlfriends, this means replying “nothing” with a smile and going back to normal. For other girlfriends, it means saying “you know what? I’m doing that thing again where I make things up and feel bad about it, but you don’t have to worry about that.” For some, it might mean sharing the story your brain made up and what you’re doing to process it and let it go.

There are no right or wrong replies to “what’s wrong?”… but I want you to reply from a place of peace, confidence, and safety.

Stop 3: Turn inward and let it go

I know that the “What’s wrong? Nothing” back and forth can go on for some time. So at any point during this cycle, you have the option of getting off at the “let it go” bus stop. But that requires that you turn inward and face it. You need to do the work at that moment.

It’s easy to tell yourself that “nothing” is wrong, too. Or that you “shouldn’t feel this way”. None of that is helpful. Even if you feel like ass because of a made-up story in your mind, it needs to be processed and released. The longer you hold on to it the more you’re bottling up and the pressure increases.

It doesn’t matter if your partner has asked you 50 times what’s wrong. It’s never too late to let it go. Don’t buckle down and keep feeling terrible just because you’ve felt terrible until now.

Get off the bus!

This doesn’t guarantee that your partner won’t get frustrated with you. They might. But regardless what they say or do, you can always return to bus stop #2 and choose how to respond with peace, confidence, and safety. Love also isn’t a bad option.

Stop 4: Curiosity > Judgment

Okay, so you followed through. You didn’t get off at any of the stops. You bottled up and then blew up. It turned into an argument. Now what? Surely, the bus has arrived at its final destination.


There is always another bus stop. It’s never too late to make the next best choice.

And in this case, that means choosing curiosity over self-judgment. Ask yourself:

  • If I were unsuccessful at de-escalating the situation once it started, why was that?
  • When did I notice it was happening? When did my conscious mind catch up, if at all?
  • At that point, what were my options, and what bus stop did I not choose and why?

The only way you’ll be better at it next time is if you let go of the judgment and shame. You need to examine the situation, get curious about what happened, and make a plan to do better next time. If you don’t, you’ll just say “I will never do this again” and then get on an airplane when it does.

To be honest, there are 1,000 bus stops to choose from in between all of these. But this is an example of how to always keep choosing the next best thing. The better and better you get at it, the sooner you’ll get off the bus. One day, you’ll see it coming and say “no thank you.”

The key to success is always a combination of processing the uncomfortable emotions flowing through your body and managing your mind. Thought work and feeling work. And this combo can be tricky to execute successfully on your own.

If you want help navigating thought work and processing emotions, I can help! Click here to read more about my 1:1 coaching program and how to apply.

xo Katrin

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